Sunday

22nd Oct 2017

May's election win would still mean hard Brexit

  • If May's majority is not big enough, she will be trapped into the same situation, between pro-Brexit MPs and those against it (Photo: Number 10/Flickr)

British voters head to the polls on Thursday (8 June) to hold the first general election since voting to leave the EU last year.

Unless a shock Labour win happens, which experts say is unlikely, the results will not significantly change Conservative prime minister Theresa May’s plans for a hard Brexit.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Corbyn's Labour has gained momentum over the past two weeks (Photo: Matthew Kirby)

In the past two weeks, May has run into several gaffes that made her campaign slogan for a “strong and stable” government look less credible.

She was forced to U-turn on a party manifesto pledge to reform social care for elderly people after it was met with outrage from the public.

Her decision not to debate other candidates on TV and to refuse some interviews also made her look weak.

The Labour party gained growing momentum and was able to attract a part of society that usually does not vote, such as young people.

Polls suggest Labour is closing the gap, but after failing to predict Brexit in the EU referendum last year, pollsters have lost credibility and their estimates are often taken with a pinch of salt.

A poll of polls, which takes account of ten results from the past week, collected by the Press Association, put the Tories at 44 percent and Labour at 37 percent. The Liberal Democrats are forecast 8 percent, the UK Independence Party (Ukip) 4 percent and the Greens 2 percent.

How big is big enough?

The main question for Thursday is how big the Tory majority is going to be. This could influence how difficult it will be for May to push through the politically sensitive results of the Brexit negotiations.

"I suspect that they [Conservatives] will return with a fairly comfortable majority. If you look at the average of the opinion polls, it suggests to me somewhere around 50-60 seats [majority],” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London told EUobserver, adding that it also depends on how many votes Labour can actually get.

The Conservatives currently have a majority of 17 in the House of Commons.

Bale noted that while Labour’s poll numbers have gone up recently, the Conservatives' have not gone down because they have managed to "suck up and hold onto the [anti-EU] Ukip vote”.

"If she [May] picks up a majority of 50-60, it would probably mean that she is in a better position to make compromises, because she won’t be so dependent, so reliant on the eurosceptic backbenchers,” Bale said.

May called the snap election in April to solidify her position, and it could allow her to make more compromises in the Brexit negotiations.

"Those compromises won’t be big, it will still be a hard Brexit, because we don’t want freedom of movement, that means we don’t want the single market,” Bale warns.

"But I think probably a bigger majority will allow her to get something closer to a kind of free trade agreement with the EU. Although in the party manifesto she talks about no deal being better than a bad deal, I think a deal is better than no deal as far as she is concerned,” he added.

Not winning a clear majority or a hung parliament would be an upset for the Tories.

But Iain Begg told EUobserver that a small majority for Theresa May is the likely scenario. Begg is a professorial research fellow at the European Institute of the London School of Economics.

“If the majority is not big enough, she will be trapped into the same situation, between pro-Brexit MPs and those against it, and her room for manoeuvre could be even smaller,” warned Begg.

On Wednesday (7 June) May and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn wrapped up their campaigns. Reacting to concerns over last week's London terror attacks, May said that she would change human rights laws if they "get in the way" of catching terror suspects.

It highlighted the Conservative’s shift towards a more authoritarian direction, even if it is more rhetoric for now.

"A lot of campaigning in rather illiberal poetry, she’ll [May] have to govern in prose,” Bale said, adding that May is more likely to focus on making existing legislation work, rather than passing new rules.

What happens to Brexit?

The EU plans to start negotiations as soon as 11 days after the vote, on 19 June. The bloc's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier hopes to brief EU-27 leaders on the state of the talks at the EU summit on 22-23 June.

However, experts warn that substantive negotiations might not start until the autumn.

"Administratively and bureaucratically yes, negotiations can start as soon as possible, on the government level maybe it won’t really start happening until the autumn, because of German elections,” Bale said.

The view from London is that the German elections, due in September, will hold up the EU for another few months, providing time for the British government to prepare for the talks.

"The EU side is not going to be in a position to make moves until the German elections and coalition building is over. I don’t think it will be Britain holding up the negotiations. The politically sensitive issues will only come up in 2018,” Begg anticipates.

Even though the Brexit referendum took place almost a year ago, Britain is under-prepared for the negotiations and it might be in the country's interest to buy more time.

"The British government is woefully under-resourced in terms of the kind of people who can do these negotiations, so really, the more time they can have and build up the resources they need, the better – they won’t be rushing to do much until the autumn,” Bale said.

The phasing of the talks will be the first hurdle. The EU wants to have “sufficient progress” on the divorce deal before discussing the future relationship with Britain, while London wants to see the two talks run in parallel.

"This government still operates under the illusion that we will be able to do the two at the same time,” Bale said.

Another politically toxic issue will be the financial settlement between the UK and the EU. The UK still questions whether it has any legal obligation to pay for the EU budget and funds once it is out of the union, according to an EU official.

But if voters hand May a confident majority on Thursday, she might be able to more easily convince her MPs to swallow a divorce bill.

May promises hard Brexit in Tory manifesto

In her party's platform ahead of the 8 June elections, the British prime minister has asked voters to let her negotiate Brexit without guaranteeing a final deal.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Tories on manoeuvres, as Labour wakes from Brexit slumber

In Labour's programme for the June election, Jeremy Corbyn claims there will be no second EU referendum and promises a form of associate membership with the EU. For the moment, it’s as far as his party can go.

May's Tories fail to secure majority

[Updated] British elections produce a hung parliament, with Conservatives failing to secure majority, while still being the largest party in the House of Commons.

Analysis

May on mission impossible in Brussels

UK prime minister called on other EU leaders to "step forward together", but she has almost nothing to offer them except the threat of walking away.

EU rejects UK claim it's slowing Brexit talks

The EU is "not confident, but hopeful" that the UK will achieve sufficient progress for 'stage 2' by December, as Britain's Brexit negotiator blames the slow pace of negotiations on the EU ahead of a crucial summit meeting.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement